Why Data Targeting Was a Natural Fit for Cotton Marketers

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Credit: Cotton Incorporated

The trade group that markets products made with cotton wanted to get the message of the fiber's breathability and quality closer to where consumers were actually shopping. Cotton is "an ingredient brand," said Jill Orsini, advertising director at Cotton Inc., meaning its marketing efforts are "brand agnostic." So, while the organization wanted to remind people that they should buy products made from cotton, only looking for audiences that viewed certain product categories, or items with particular brand names, did not suffice.

Working with Bazaarvoice, Cotton Inc. determined whether people were in the market to buy products such as bath towels or denim jeans containing cotton by using SKU-level description data showing when items list cotton in their materials listings. When the not-for-profit served those audiences ads promoting the benefits of cotton over synthetics, it found the approach may have helped boost sales of items made with its ingredient.

The campaign also inspired an idea – to use the results to convince brands and retailers to tout cotton in product names and top-line descriptions on product pages.

In July, August and September, Cotton Inc. ran web and mobile display ads to people checking out clothes and home goods online that were made with the fluffy stuff, paying no attention to which brands or retailers they were browsing.

Ads featured copy such as, "Breathe-easy shopping starts with breathable fabrics," and "Treat your skin to natural comfort with cotton." Some included images of people in fun apparel made with cotton, others focused more on goods like bath mats. Ads drove people to a variety of landing pages including one focused on why people often pick their favorite items because they are made of cotton, and a "shop" page linking out to e-commerce sites selling "curated" cotton clothing and home goods.

In addition to showing ads to people shopping for home goods like towels or clothing such as leisure wear, Bazaarvoice identified those potential cotton buyers using product data it accesses from the product level and conversation pages the company enables.

"We wanted to qualify the fact that this is a true cotton product," said Graham Harris, VP-brand partnerships at Bazaarvoice.

The digital shopper data and ad firm builds audience segments using its blend of data, much of which is derived through user interactions on the millions of review and consumer ratings pages it operates across 5,000 brand and retail sites. Bazaarvoice serves ads in inventory it purchases from ad exchanges including DoubleClick and Facebook.

Following the three-month effort, the partners said the ads produced $8.68 spending on average per dollar spent on ads by Cotton Inc. based on transactional data Bazaarvoice gets from e-commerce clients.

Those results will be used to prove to the group's stakeholders – U.S. cotton growers and brands and retailers that import cotton – that this type of targeting was a good investment, suggested Ms. Orsini.

The initiative also could help convince brands and retailers that having the word "cotton" displayed more prominently in product names and descriptions, rather than buried in a secondary page featuring product specs, will help sell more. If they can show that mentioning cotton sways the consumer, she said, "It's a really compelling story for them."

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